There are lots of things to love about living in Thailand (in truth, there are plenty of things to loathe too, but today I’m looking at these little quirks with fondness, if you like. When I come ranting on my blog about these things in later weeks, when I’m not being so polite, please DON’T remind me of this: I may punch you on the nose).
One of the things I love is that some elements of Thai life remind me of growing up in Britain in the 1970s. I suppose this may be because this is considered to be a developing culture. (I think this is supposed to mean that the UK is developed? I have some problems with this, but this isn’t the time). One of the things to get me completely over excited is free gifts. Companies here still have decent budgets for quality promotional material and as a result there are plenty of freebies. The way this is administered varies, but the more complex it is, the more enticing I find it. If you spend a sufficient amount of money in a shop or during promotional periods, you might be handed your receipt and told ‘coupon’. This used to be a mystery, and I curse myself for the freebies I must’ve missed. Eventually we worked out that you could exchange your receipt for a coupon which would reveal a prize, or a % off your next purchase. Quite often the exchange area would be three floors away, hidden away and nigh on impossible to find, but this is all part of the adventure. The coupon wouldn’t be simple either, you’d have to scratch the box to reveal the prize – or maybe you had to tear the perforations off to disclose it.
If you spend enough in some places you are rewarded there and then with a ‘gift’ and you are invited to register for the VIP programme, where you fill in your details. Yeah, yeah, you cynics say, it’s just for direct marketing – I’m all for that because yes they send literature through the post, but they also send you free things. Starbucks sent husband a diary for his birthday in April last year! How exciting? I know it was April but it’s still a free gift. It doesn’t matter that we spent an astronomical amount on a picture from a gallery: when the gallery sent us a free mug when they moved premises I could barely contain my excitement. I still get a warm glow when I take down their mug from my shelf to make a cup of tea.
Of course, there’s more than a bit of nostalgia to be had here by way of explanation. My Dad is a doctor and two or three times a year he went off to conferences, usually heavily sponsored by a variety of drug companies. Wherever there was a pharmaceutical company promoting their drugs, there were freebies to be had. Whenever Dad came home he’d be armed with a free plastic bag, or sometimes, true excitement, a vinyl bag with a promotional tag on it. The bags would be full to bursting with diaries, notepads, pencils, pens, brandishing guarantees that their drug is best for combating oesophageal reflux.
I’ve never quite got over the thrill of Dad turning out the contents of his bags. The strongest individual memory I have was the day he came home with some erasers. These were no ordinary erasers: they were shaped like the tablet they were promoting. They were perfect, scaled up versions of the tablet, but cast in rubbery eraser material. It even had the name of the drug imprinted on its body. I’d never seen anything like it. I held one in the palm of my hand; it was smooth and perfect. I lost it eventually; I still grieve for that eraser.
I’ve always had a thing for paper products: In Dad’s office one of his drawers was crammed full of these drug company diaries and notebooks – the fact that the diaries were out of date was immaterial to me. They signified grownupness, the adult world; they were somewhere I could write the imaginary appointments of my future adult. I loved everything about them. My childhood friend, C, had an Uncle Paper whose occasional visits would cause great anticipation because he always brought boxes of off cut paper: I was so envious that I didn’t have an Uncle Paper. Sometimes I got some booty from his box: I discovered if I ran the paper through my mum’s sewing machine I’d get proper, professional perforations and I could create real forms, with tear-off sections.
And really I still haven’t grown out of stationery. I have a guillotine, a cutting mat and a laminator but I used to be an art student, so I can go some way to persuading husband that I need these things. I’ve got two things on my wish list now: what I’d like next is one of those heating machines that seals plastic bags, and then perhaps a binding machine.